Shocked and dismayed by the Board of Selectman’s actions this week

Dear Members of the Board of Selectmen:

             As you know, this office represents Patrick Sheehan, Trustee, as the owner of the property at 35-37 Interlaken Road.  As you also know, Mr. Sheehan has made multiple requests to meet with the Board to discuss his proposed resort/residential development project for the property.  The Board has, to date, declined these requests.

           We were therefore surprised and disheartened to learn that the Board engaged in an extended discussion regarding the project, and invited and entertained comments from project opponents, at its meeting on December 18, 2017.  As a threshold matter, I must point out that the Board’s meeting agenda stated only: “37 Interlaken/DeSisto—Bylaw change request announcement.” [Emphasis added].  In contrast to other agenda items, there was no indication that there would be a Board discussion, let alone that public input would be accepted.   The fact that the Board held such discussion and entertained such public input, without prior notice, is inconsistent with the Open Meeting Law.  In addition, this discussion was contrary to what the project proponent had been told, specifically that the Board would not meet to discuss the project until after the first of the year and that the project proponent would be provided prior notice of any such discussion.  See enclosed email from the Town Manager to Project Manager Robert Akroyd.

          Even more concerning was the fact that Members of the Board made false and disparaging remarks regarding the project and Mr. Sheehan.  For instance, one Board member referred to a supposed “massive, well-funded PR campaign.”  For the record, no such “PR campaign” exists.  Mr. Sheehan is a Stockbridge homeowner with deep ties to the Berkshires.  He is not employing any type of “PR machine”.  The strong public support for this project is the result of grassroots efforts to directly inform fair-minded members of the public regarding the project, primarily through holding small open houses, having one-on-one conversations with residents, and through word of mouth.  Moreover, the statement by one selectman that it was “outrageous” for Mr. Sheehan to hold these open houses to educate members of the public about the project is absurd.  Mr. Sheehan has every right to meet with his neighbors and talk to them about his proposal.  There is nothing remotely inappropriate, let alone “outrageous” about such outreach.

Similarly false was the statement by Members of the Board that the project proponent did not respond to the Board’s request for more detailed information regarding the revenue and job production that would result from the project.  The Board dismissively suggested that the information provided was simply the same “diagrams of the project” previously submitted.  The truth is that the information provided to the Board on December 8 was new information, specifically prepared to respond directly to the Board’s request, and included detailed breakdowns of the revenue that the Town would receive and the employment production that would be generated as a result of the project.  The Board’s claim to the contrary is inaccurate, and I would urge the Members of the Board to review the information submitted on December 8.

Perhaps of greatest concern was one Board member’s repetition of an unfair and inaccurate claim that he has been “pressured” by members of the project team.  This is an outright falsehood that has been repeated too many times.  The truth is that Mr. Sheehan made a single telephone call to each member of each Town board and committee to invite them to attend one of the open houses and learn about the project.  To mischaracterize the courtesy of personally extending an invitation to an open house on a single occasion as “pressure”, and to repeat this unfounded claim multiple times at public meetings, when Mr. Sheehan has not been afforded the opportunity to attend and refute this claim, is unfair.  Moreover, the stated reason that Members of the Board have given for refusing to attend the open houses regarding the project is that they wished to demonstrate fairness and impartiality.  The fact that, as was revealed at the December 18 meeting, members of the Board have had secret meetings with vocal opponents of the project, while simultaneously refusing to meet in public with the project proponent, belies this assertion.

Finally, though we had hoped to have the courtesy of notice and an opportunity to be heard before Members of the Board pass judgment on the proposed Bylaw amendment, as we have repeatedly requested, we will take this opportunity to respond to comments made regarding the amendment during the December 18 meeting.  The project proponent believes the most appropriate—and most democratic—process is to present the project and the zoning amendment to Town Meeting voters with a proposal to replace a discretionary special permit issued by the Board of Selectmen with site plan review by the Planning Board.  There are two primary reasons for this.  First, as you know, a special permit from the Board of Selectmen requires a unanimous vote.  Therefore, any single member of the Board of Selectmen would have an outright veto over a project of great significance and public importance, with little or no accountability to the public.  If Town Meeting determines that this project is one that it wants to support with a zoning amendment, it seems extremely inappropriate and undemocratic to give a single Selectman the ability to undermine the will of the voters, particularly given the prejudice against the project and Mr. Sheehan that has been exhibited by Members of the Board of Selectmen to date.

Second,  with all due respect, the Board of Selectmen does not have the experience or expertise to consider the types of detailed traffic and drainage analyses that will be necessary for a meaningful and objective review of this project.  It, therefore, seems much more appropriate for such review to be performed by the Planning Board, which has far greater experience in this regard.  Also, contrary to statements made during the Selectmen’s meeting, the site plan review process provides the Planning Board with broad discretion to impose a broad array of reasonable conditions that are intended to address impacts of the project, and ensure provision of adequate and safe infrastructure and utilities to serve the project, as long as that discretion is not abused and used as a back-door effort to undermine the will of Town Meeting voters.

A comment was made during the meeting by a Member of the Board that the project proponent should follow the process of pursuing a zoning amendment through discussion with Town boards.  This comment was disingenuous at best.  We attended a meeting of the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee and requested an opportunity to discuss this matter with that Committee.  We were told that the committee would not have this discussion with us outside of the years-long process of reviewing and recommending changes to the entire 81-page Zoning Bylaw.  We have repeatedly requested an opportunity to meet with the Board of Selectmen, which has rebuffed these requests.  Moreover, we are following the exact process set forth in state law for seeking a zoning change. We had hoped to meet with the Selectmen and review the proposed Bylaw with the Board and receive its input and suggestions prior to filing our request to have the Bylaw referred to the Planning Board.  Again, the Board refused these requests.  It is, therefore, astounding that Members of the Board would suggest that we are circumventing any appropriate procedures.

Mr. Sheehan has spent millions of dollars cleaning up and maintaining the property and has sought, for years, to work with the Town toward its beneficial reuse.  The timing of the request to refer our draft amendment to the Planning Board was necessitated by timelines set forth in the state Zoning Act and by the Selectmen’s refusal to meet with us.  Had we not submitted the request when we did, we would risk missing the opportunity to have Town Meeting vote on the proposal at the Annual Town Meeting in May.  Also, contrary to statements made at the December 18 meeting, nothing in this proposal would in any way affect or undermine any other applicable regulatory reviews by the Conservation Commission, Historic Preservation Commission or any other body.  This proposal only relates to zoning.

We are hopeful that, notwithstanding its prior efforts to undermine the project and deprive Mr. Sheehan of due process, the Board will be willing to meet with us and provide a fair and unbiased forum to discuss the proposed 37 Interlaken project.  We await a response as to the Board’s willingness, now, to do so.  In the meantime, we request the courtesy of being notified when there will be public discussion regarding our project.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,

Jonathan Silverstein

For anyone interested in viewing Monday, December 18th Selectmen’s Meeting, it is available here.